The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children two years old and older should eat a diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lowfat and non-fat dairy products, beans, fish and lean meats. The guidelines also recommend very low amounts of saturated and trans fats. The “experts” are increasingly urging strict adherence to this diet in children. “The idea that heart disease starts in the 50s has been substantially discounted,” says Dr. Robert Eckel of the University of Colorado and former president of the American Heart Association. “Saturated fat is always an enemy to the arteries, at any age.”1
I have described some of the harmful consequences of lowfat diets for growing children in previous columns (see westonaprice.org/knowyourfats/diet_children.html). The purported rationale for putting children on fat-restricted diets involves preventing future obesity and heart disease. Yet one study indicates that children put on lowfat diets actually develop markers for heart disease. Children on lowfat diets whose genes would normally have been producing the desirable light and fluffy form of LDL-cholesterol started to make the dangerous small and dense form of LDL.2
Lowfat Diets For Children?
Promoters of lowfat diets have seen to it that whole milk has been virtually eliminated in schools. This new policy is predicated on the assumption that the fat in whole milk will make children become fat. Yet a recent study on children in Sweden revealed that lower fat intake was associated with higher body mass index and greater insulin resistance.3 Children on lowfat diets also consumed more sugar. Since the beverage choice for American children in schools today is either reduced-fat milk or chocolate milk, greater sugar consumption will no doubt be a consequence of the fat-restriction policy.
More cause for alarm comes from another recent study, this one published in Human Reproduction.4 The risk of anovulatory infertility was found to be 27 percent lower in women who ate at least one portion of high-fat dairy food per day compared with women who had one high-fat serving of dairy per week, or even less. Women who ate two or more portions of lowfat dairy foods a day increased their risk of ovulationrelated infertility by 85 percent.
The researchers concluded that women who want to get pregnant should consume high-fat dairy products but, once pregnant, switch back to lowfat foods. The assumption is that ovulation can be restored in adult women by switching from lowfat to full-fat dairy products. But what happens in girls who are denied healthy dairy fats throughout childhood, even, it seems, in the womb? Will they be able to become pregnant by consuming full-fat dairy products for the first time when they are adults? This is a dangerous assumption to make since the vitamins in dairy fats are essential for the development of the reproductive system throughout the growing years.
Some researchers are urging caution. Dr. John Kostyak and a team from Pennsylvania State University recently warned in the online magazine Nutrition Journal that so-called “muesli mothers” are taking adult dietary messages to extremes and inflicting them on their children. “Sufficient fat must be included in the diet for children to support normal growth and development,” says Kostyak. Unfortunately, the fats he recommends are the “good fats,” such as olive oil and sunflower oil. However, some commentators are urging full-fat dairy products for children under five—contradicting US government policy that urges restriction of dairy fats after the age of two.5
The pharmaceutical industry seems intent on putting growing children on cholesterol-lowering drugs, with a carefully orchestrated campaign that first targets children with a condition called hereditary familial hypercholesterolemia, chronic “high” cholesterol levels of genetic origin. In a recently published meta-analysis, researchers reported no side effects in children given cholesterol-lowering statin drugs compared to a placebo.6 With the drugs, they were able to reduce total cholesterol by 25 percent and LDLcholesterol by 30 percent. The report contains a number of caveats—namely that longer-term studies are needed, as current studies have only examined possible side effects such as growth problems and retarded sexual development for a period of one or two years. Nevertheless, the author, Dr. Barbara A. Hutten from Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, Netherlands, stated with confidence, “When a child has been diagnosed with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia, statin treatment should be considered for all children older than eight years.”
Not content with statin therapy for the small percentage of children with hereditary familial hypercholesterolemia, the American Heart Association now endorses statin treatment in children for a variety of risk factors: “. . . just as with adults, there are certain risk factors in children that may call for more aggressive treatment.”7 The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) has drawn up new guidelines that would include diabetes, overweight and a family history of cardiovascular disease, as well as familial hypercholesterolemia, as risk factors in children that could be treated with statins. Even “male gender” has been singled out as a risk factor! NCEP estimates that under these guidelines, from 36 to 46 percent of children and adolescents would be targeted for cholesterol-lowering measures, which could include statin treatment. Although the American Heart Association statement notes that “There is a real need for ongoing research regarding drug therapy of high risk lipid abnormalities in children, particularly regarding long-term efficacy and safety [emphasis mine],” it seems clear that plans to lower cholesterol in children are going forward.
A Note Of Caution
A note of caution comes from the expert committee of the US Preventive Services Task Force.8 The committee examined randomized, control clinical trials and all available evidence, carefully considering ten key questions concerning the effectiveness, risks and accuracy of screening; the effectiveness and risks of diet, drug and exercise interventions for managing cholesterol and preventing cardiovascular disease; and whether reducing blood cholesterol levels in youth reduces the risk of high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease in adulthood. Their conclusion: “The evidence is insufficient to recommend for or against routine screening for lipid disorders in infants, children, adolescents, or young adults (up to age 20). Evidence for effectiveness is lacking, of poor quality, or conflicting, and the balance of benefits and harms can not be determined.”
The committee raised serious concerns about side effects. They found evidence of growth failure, nutritional dwarfing and inhibited progression of puberty in children on fat-restricted diets. They also reported that “lower fat intake was associated with lower levels of calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin E, vitamin B12, thiamine, niacin and riboflavin.”
As for prescribing statin drugs to children, the committee noted that these drugs have FDA approval for use in children only in cases of familial hypercholesterolemia. “There is no evidence that diet or exercise interventions in childhood lead to improved lipid profiles or better health outcomes in adulthood.” Furthermore, statin drugs also have side effects, including liver damage, gastrointestinal problems and decreased absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Unfortunately, this report received scant publicity and will probably do little to stop the anti-cholesterol campaign in children. As a result, well-meaning parents and health officials will continue to apply cholesterol- lowering measures to young people—including starving them of nutrients—in the mistaken belief that they are protecting their health.
Diet Foods May Cause Weight Gain
As health officials continue to harp on the dangers of weight gain, parents are increasingly likely to give low-calorie products to their children. But studies with rats provide further evidence of the folly of this policy. Young animals given low-calorie version of foods ended up overeating, whether they were lean or obese; however, older adolescent rats fed diet foods did not show the same tendency to overeat.9 “Diet foods are probably not a good idea for growing youngsters,” said Professor David Pierce, head of the study. But that is exactly what the “experts” recommend—lowfat versions of dairy products and meat, and a restriction of animal fats like butter.
Can Cholesterol Protect Against Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Defects (FASD) includes numerous abnormalities, such as neurological, craniofacial and cardiac malformations. In studies with zebra fish, researchers found that alcohol interferes with embryonic development by disrupting cholesterol-dependent activation of a critical signaling molecule. But with cholesterol supplementation of the alcohol-exposed embryos, FASD-like defects were prevented. The defects resulted from minimal alcohol exposure, equivalent to a 120-pound woman drinking one 12-ounce beer.10 This study raises the specter of increased FASD in human children as a result of lowfat diets for pregnant women.
- www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art. asp?articlekey=79122.
- Dreon, MD et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000 71:1611-1616.
- Human Reproduction 2007;doi:10.1093/humrep/dem019.
- Let Your Children Chew the Fat. www.timesonline.co.uk, August 23, 2007.
- Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2007;27:1803-1810.
- www.americanheart.org, March 21, 2007.
- Obesity, August 8, 2007.
- Laboratory Investigation, January 25, 2007.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2007.